Fintan O'Toole: On abortion we are subjects of Brexit Britain

Anti-abortionists depend on pagan England to uphold their vision of a holy Ireland

Volunteers from both the "Yes" and "No" campaigns canvass on the streets of Cork and Dublin ahead of the abortion referendum vote on May 25th. Video: Reuters

Independence means having your own state. But it is also a state of mind. There has been an independent Irish State for nearly a century, but whether Ireland has ever been psychologically independent is a whole other matter. It is a question, as it happens, that hovers over two of the biggest issues currently occupying Irish minds: Brexit and the abortion referendum. They may seem to be miles apart but underlying both is the extent to which Ireland is ready to be psychologically independent from Britain. 

If we leave aside the existential questions of partition and Irish unity, abortion is arguably the last great remnant of post-colonial dependency. Where once the failure of Irish independence was symbolised by the emigrant crossing the Irish Sea on a cattle boat to get a job, now it is symbolised by the Irish woman crossing the Irish Sea on a Ryanair flight to terminate a pregnancy. When it comes to abortion, both those who want it and those who purport to despise it thank God for Mother England. Women depend on England to uphold their right to choose. Anti-abortionists depend on England to uphold their vision of a holy Catholic Ireland where such abominations are not permitted.

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